Abolishing Death

The resurrection of believers is not a major subject in Paul’s “pastoral” letters, but he did raise the subject in 2 Timothy to deal with false teachers who were denying this essential truth of the young faith. As he wrote, “God did not give us a spirit of fear but of a sound mind.” The theme of “sound teaching” is prominent in the Letter, and the future resurrection was a basic element of the Church’s forward-looking hope. After all, Jesus “abolished death” when God raised him from the dead.

In his earlier letter to the Assembly in Corinth, Paul described the heart of the Gospel – “That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day” – (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Cemetery Sunrise - Photo by Ayanna Johnson on Unsplash
[Photo by Ayanna Johnson on Unsplash]

The Apostolic message is “
sound” teaching and represents the “power of God who saved and called us…according to His own purpose and grace given to us in Christ Jesus before the times of the ages.” However, this salvation has only been manifested in recent times:

  • God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to the peculiar purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages but has now been manifested through the appearance of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and thrown light upon life and incorruptibility, through means of the gospel.” - (2 Timothy 1:9-10).

By the phrase “abolish death,” Paul does not mean that death no longer occurs. The Greek verb translated here as “abolish” does not mean to “destroy” or annihilate something, but to “nullify” it, to make it ineffective, to “discharge or IDLE” it, to invalidate its legal charge and claim over humanity (katargeô, Strong’s - #G2673).

The cessation of Death, its reality and state, will not occur until the “arrival” or ‘Parousia’ of Jesus. As the author of Hebrews writes, through his death, Jesus “destroyed him that had the dominion of death, that is, the Devil, and delivered them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

Death still occurs for all men, including believers, but it is incapable of holding faithful disciples. When Jesus returns at the end of the age, he will overthrow Death’s sentence by raising his saints from the dead - (1 Corinthians 15:24-28, Hebrews 2:14-18).

According to Paul, Jesus brought life and “immortality” to light (aphtharsia). The Greek noun rendered “immortality” does not mean “eternal.” It does NOT denote any sense of timelessness or of a person being without beginning or end. Immortality is the opposite of death, it is deathlessness, which is what the Greek noun means, “DEATH-LESS, without death” – (Strong’s - #G861).

This is not a condition that human souls, spirits, or bodies possess by nature. Immortality was lost when Adam sinned. However, believers will be raised, transformed, and receive immortality when Jesus returns. This will not be the case for all human beings, only those men and women who have been redeemed by his death will be raised to “everlasting life” - (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).

Paul went on to exhort Timothy to “remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel.” The Apostle suffered persecution on account of this Gospel, and central to it was the proclamation that God raised His son from the dead - (2 Timothy 2:8-18).

Paul suffered, but he did so that the “elect may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with everlasting glory… If we be dead with him, we shall also live with him… If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.”

BODILY RESURRECTION


While death still occurs, it does not have the final word. “Salvation,” resurrection, and “everlasting glory” will be obtained when Jesus returns - (“We will also live with him”).

Paul reminded Timothy of Christ’s past resurrection, the basis of the future resurrection of the believer. False teachers were denying the bodily resurrection of the saints. The Apostle labeled such denials “profane and vain babblings,” and Timothy was exhorted to avoid them - (1 Corinthians 15:10-20).

It is not clear what, precisely, these men were teaching other than denying the future resurrection. More accurately, the clause reads, “declaring that the resurrection already came to pass.” Denying the bodily resurrection would mean abandoning the fundamental hope of the Gospel and repudiating the very foundation of salvation.

Sun - Photo by Bernd 📷 Dittrich on Unsplash
[Sunrise - Photo by Bernd 📷 Dittrich on Unsplash]

Based on beliefs common in Greco-Roman society, most likely, these false teachers rejected the idea of bodily resurrection in favor of one version or another of the belief in escape from the physical creation to a disembodied state - (Acts 17:32, 1 Corinthians 15:12).

  • For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised. Moreover, if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins. Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable. But now has Christ been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who sleep” – (1 Corinthians 15:16-20).

That Paul brings up the resurrection so easily when it is tangential to his larger discourse shows just how foundational this truth was to the Apostolic Tradition. If the righteous dead are not raised bodily from the dead, they will remain forever in their graves.



RELATED POSTS:
  • The Death of Death - (The Last Enemy, Death, will be overthrown when Jesus arrives at the end of the age - 1 Corinthians 15:20-25)
  • Final Events - (Paul list the key events that will occur on or just before the return of Jesus, including the abolishment of Death and the bodily resurrection)
  • Redemption, not Abandonment - (Redemption means the recovery of that which was lost, including the bodily resurrection and the New Creation)

A special song celebrating the Resurrection by Orthodox Christian Chants.

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